elderberry

A word that has Monty Pythonian resonances for some and a jammy flavour and staining colour for others. A compound word, made of two recognizable parts, the first of which may bring to mind Mormons, Presbyterians, Plinys, or simply brothers or sisters, and the second of which simply smacks of tiny fruits that stain white shirts and go nicely on desserts. A pause for reflection may bring out a doyen’s funeral. All three vowels are written e, although the second has a different sound, and there are three r‘s as well, along with an l and two voiced stops, making a word that never whispers, hisses or sighs. The plant, interestingly, is Sambucus in Latin, which is a whole other world phonaesthetically. And why is there no youngerberry? Because the berry comes from the elder tree, which has nothing to do with greater age; it comes from ellærn, which may be related to maples or holes. Both parts of the word are as Anglo-Saxon as you could want. The plant is reputed to ward off evil influence… but beware of cutting it; it will be revenged, perhaps through the cyanide found in its seeds, twigs and leaves.

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